In the Crucible of Danger

Chapter 22

In the Crucible of Danger

Edgar Rice Burroughs


FOR A LONG TIME Old Timer and the girl walked on in silence. There were no more interchanges of friendly conversation. The atmosphere was frigid. Kali Bwana walked a little behind the man. Often her eyes were upon him. She was thinking seriously, but what her thoughts were she did not reveal.

When they came to a pleasant open stretch through which a small stream wound, Old Timer stopped beneath a great tree that grew upon the bank of the stream. “We shall remain here for a while,” he said.

The girl made no comment, and he did not look at her but started at once to make camp. First he gathered dead branches of suitable size, for a shelter, cutting a few green ones to give it greater strength. These he formed into a frame-work resembling that of an Indian wicki-up, covering the whole with leafy branches and grasses.

While he worked, the girl assisted him, following his example without asking for directions. Thus they worked in silence. When the shelter was finished he gathered wood for a fire. In this work she helped him, too.

“We shall be on short rations,” he said, “until I can make a bow and some arrows.”

This elicited no response from the girl; and he went his way, searching for suitable material for his weapon. He never went far, never out of sight of the camp; and presently he was back again with the best that he could find. With his knife he shaped a bow, rough but practical; and then he strung it with the pliable stem of a slender creeper that he had seen natives use for the same purpose in an emergency. This done, he commenced to make arrows. He worked rapidly, and the girl noticed the deftness of his strong fingers. Sometimes she watched his face, but on the few occasions that he chanced to look up she had quickly turned her eyes away before he could catch them upon him.

There were other eyes watching them from the edge of a bit of jungle farther up the stream, close-set, red-rimmed, savage eyes beneath beetling brows; but neither of them was aware of this; and the man continued his work, and the girl continued to study his face contemplatively. She still felt his arms about her; his lips were still hot upon hers. How strong he was! She had felt in that brief moment that he could have crushed her like an egg shell, and yet in spite of his savage impulsiveness he had been tender and gentle.

But these thoughts she tried to put from her and remember only that he was a boor and a cad. She scanned his clothing that now no longer bore even a resemblance to clothing, being nothing but a series of rags held together by a few shreds and the hand of Providence. What a creature to dare take her in his arms! What a thing to dare kiss her! She flushed anew at the recollection. Then she let her eyes wander again to his face. She tried to see only the unkempt beard, but through it her eyes persisted in seeing the contours of his fine features. She became almost angry with herself and turned her eyes away that she might not longer entertain this line of thought; and as she did so she stifled a scream and leaped to her feet.

“God!” she cried; “look!”

At her first cry the man raised his eyes. Then he, too, leaped to his feet. “Run!” he cried to the girl. “For God’s sake, Kali, run!”

But she did not run. She stood there waiting, in her hand the futile staff he had cut for her that she had seized as she leaped to her feet; and the man waited, his heavier cudgel ready in his hand.

Almost upon them, rolling toward them in his awkward gait, was an enormous bull ape, the largest that Old Timer had ever seen. The man glanced quickly sideways and was horrified to see the girl still standing there near him.

“Please run away, Kali,” he implored. “I cannot stop him; but I can delay him, and you must get away before he can get you. Don’t you understand, Kali? It is you he wants.” But the girl did not move, and the great beast was advancing steadily. “Please!” begged the man.

“You did not run away when I was in danger,” she reminded him.

He started to reply; but the words were never spoken, for it was then that the ape charged. Old Timer struck with his club, and the girl rushed in and struck with hers. Utter futility! The beast grasped the man’s weapon, tore it from his hand, and flung it aside. With his other hand he sent Kali Bwana spinning with a blow that might have felled an ox had not the man broken its force by seizing the shaggy arm; then he picked Old Timer up as one might a rag doll and rolled off toward the jungle.

When the girl, still half dazed from the effect of the blow, staggered to her feet she was alone; the man and the beast had disappeared. She called aloud, but there was no reply. She thought that she had been unconscious, but she did not know; so she could not know how long it had been since the beast had carried the man away. She tried to follow, but she did not know in which direction they had gone; she would have followed and fought for the man—her man. The words formed in her mind and brought no revulsion of feeling. Had he not called her “my Kali”—my woman?

What a change this brief episode had wrought in her!

A moment before, she had been trying to hate him, trying to seek out everything disgusting about him—his rags, his beard, the dirt upon him. Now she would have given a world to have him back, nor was it alone because she craved protection. This she realized. Perhaps she realized the truth, too; but if she did she was not ashamed. She loved him, loved this nameless man of rags and tatters.

.     .     .     .     .

Tarzan of the Apes stoically awaited his fate, whatever it might be. He neither wasted his strength in useless efforts to break bonds that he had found unbreakable, nor dissipated his nervous energy in futile repining. He merely lay still. Nkima squatted dejectedly beside him. There was always something wrong with the world; so Nkima should have been accustomed to that, but he liked to feel sorry for himself. Today he was in his prime; he could scarcely have been more miserable if Sheeta had been pursuing him.

The afternoon was waning as Tarzan’s keen ears caught the sound of approaching footsteps. He heard them before either Nkima or the great apes heard them, and he voiced a low growl that apprised the others. Instantly the great, shaggy beasts were alert. The shes and the balus gathered nearer the bulls; all listened in absolute silence. They sniffed the air; but the wind blew from them toward whatever was approaching, so that they could detect no revealing spoor. The bulls were nervous; they were prepared either for instant battle or for flight.

Silently, notwithstanding its great weight, a mighty figure emerged from the forest. It was Ga-yat. Under one arm he carried a man-thing. Zu-tho growled. He could see Ga-yat; but he could not smell him, and one knows that one’s eyes and ears may deceive one, but never one’s nose. “I am Zu-tho,” he growled, baring his great fighting fangs. “I kill!”

“I am Ga-yat,” answered the other, as he lumbered toward Tarzan.

Presently the others caught his scent spoor and were satisfied, but the scent of the man-thing annoyed and angered them. They came forward, growling. “Kill the Tarmangani!” was on the lips of many.

Ga-yat carried Old Timer to where Tarzan lay and threw him unceremoniously to the ground. “I am Ga-yat,” he said; “here is a Tarmangani. Ga-yat saw no Gomangani.”

The other bulls were crowding close, anxious to fall upon the man-thing. Old Timer had never seen such a concourse of great apes, had never known that they grew so large. It was evident that they were not gorillas, and they were more man-like than any apes he had seen. He recalled the stories that natives had told of these hairy men of the forest, stories that he had not believed. He saw the white man lying bound and helpless among them, but at first he did not recognize him. He thought that he, too, was a prisoner of these man-like brutes. What terrible creatures they were! He was thankful that his captor had taken him rather than Kali. Poor Kali! What would become of her now?

The bulls were pressing closer. Their intentions were evident even to the man. He thought the end was near. Then, to his astonishment, he heard savage growls burst from the lips of the man near him, saw his lip curl upward, revealing strong, white teeth.

“The Tarmangani belongs to Tarzan,” growled the apeman. “Do not harm that which is Tarzan’s.”

Ga-yat and Zu-tho turned upon the other bulls and drove them back, while Old Timer looked on in wide-eyed astonishment. He had not understood what Tarzan said; he could scarcely believe that he had communicated with the apes, yet the evidence was such that he was convinced of it against his better judgment. He lay staring at the huge, hairy creatures moving slowly away from him; even they seemed unreal.

“You are no sooner out of one difficulty than you find yourself in another,” said a deep, low voice in English.

Old Timer turned his eyes toward the speaker. The voice was familiar. Now he recognized him. “You are the man who got me out of that mess in the temple!” he exclaimed.

“And now I am in a mess,”’ said the other.

“Both of us,” added Old Timer. “What do you suppose they will do with us?”

“Nothing,” replied the ape-man.

“Then why did they bring me here?”

“I told one of them to go and get me a man,” replied Tarzan. “Evidently you chanced to be the first man he came upon. I did not expect a white man.”

“You sent that big brute that got me? They do what you ask? Who are you, and why did you send for a man?”

“I am Tarzan of the Apes, and I wanted someone who could untwist these wires that are around my wrists; neither the apes nor Nkima could do it.”

“Tarzan of the Apes!” exclaimed Old Timer. “I thought you were only a part of the folklore of the natives.” As he spoke he started to work on the wires that confined the apeman’s wrists—copper wires that untwisted easily.

“What became of the white girl?” asked the latter. “You got her out of the Betete village, but I couldn’t follow you because the little devils got me.”

“You were there! Ah, now I see; it was you who shot the arrows.”

“Yes.”

“How did they get you, and how did you get away from them?”

“I was in a tree above them. The branch broke. I was stunned for a moment. Then they bound me.”

“That was the crash I heard as I was leaving the village.”

“Doubtless,” agreed the ape-man. “I called the great apes,” he continued, “and they came and carried me here. Where is the white girl?”

“She and I were on our way toward my camp when the ape got me,” explained Old Timer. “She is alone back there now. When I get these wires off, may I go back to her?”

“I shall go with you. Where was the place? Do you think you can find it?”

“It cannot be far, not more than a few miles, yet I may not be able to find it.”

“I can,” said Tarzan.

“How?” inquired Old Timer.

“By Ga-yat’s spoor. It is still fresh.”

The white man nodded, but he was not convinced. He thought it would be a slow procedure picking out the foot prints of the beast all the way back to the spot at which he had been seized. He had removed the wires from Tarzan’s wrists and was working upon those of his ankles; a moment later the ape-man was free. He leaped to his feet.

“Come!” he directed and started at a trot toward the spot at which Ga-yat had emerged from the jungle.

Old Timer tried to keep up with him, but discovered that he was weak from hunger and exhaustion. “You go ahead,” he called to the ape-man. “I cannot keep up with you, and we can’t waste any time. She is there alone.”

“If I leave you, you will get lost,” objected Tarzan. “Wait, I have it!” He called to Nkima, who was swinging through the trees above them, and the monkey dropped to his shoulder. “Stay near the Tarmangani,” he directed, “and show him the trail that Tarzan follows.”

Nkima objected; he was not interested in the Tarmangani, but at last he understood that he must do as Tarzan wished. Old Timer watched them chattering to one another. It seemed incredible that they were conversing, yet the illusion was perfect.

“Follow Nkima,” said Tarzan; “he will guide you in the right direction.” Then he was off at a swinging trot along a track that Old Timer could not see.

.     .     .     .     .

Kali Bwana was stunned by the hopelessness of her position. After the brief sense of security she had enjoyed since the man had taken her from the village of the pygmies her present situation seemed unbearable by contrast, and in addition she had suffered a personal loss. To the burden of her danger was added grief.

She gazed at the crude shelter he had built for her, and two tears rolled down her cheeks. She picked up the bow he had made and pressed her lips against the insensate wood. She knew that she would never see him again, and the thought brought a choking sob to her throat. It had been long since Kali Bwana had wept. In the face of privation, adversity, and danger she had been brave; but now she crept into the shelter and gave herself over to uncontrolled grief.

What a mess she had made of everything! Thus ran her thoughts. Her ill-conceived search for Jerry had ended in failure; but worse, it had embroiled a total stranger and led him to his death, nor was he the first to die because of her. There had been the faithful Andereya, whom the Leopard Men had killed when they captured her; and there had been Wlala, and Rebega, and his three warriors—all these lives snuffed out because of her stubborn refusal to understand her own limitations. The white officers and civilians along the lower stretch of the river had tried to convince her, but she had refused to listen. She had had her own way, but at what price! She was paying now in misery and remorse.

For some time she lay there, a victim of vain regrets; and then she realized the futility of repining, and by an effort of the will seized control of her shaken nerves. She told herself that she must not give up, that even this last, terrible blow must not stop her. She still lived, and she had not found Jerry. She would go on. She would try to reach the river; she would try in some way to cross it, and she would find Old Timer’s camp and enlist the aid of his partner. But she must have food, strength-giving flesh. She could not carry on in her weakened condition. The bow that he had made, and that she had hugged to her breast as she lay in the shelter, would furnish her the means to secure meat; and with this thought in mind she arose and went out to gather up the arrows. It was still not too late to hunt.

As she emerged from the frail hut she saw one of the creatures that she had long feared inwardly, knowing that this forest abounded in them—a leopard. The beast was standing at the edge of the jungle looking toward her. As its yellow eyes discovered her, it dropped to its belly, its face grimacing in a horrid snarl. Then it started to creep cautiously toward her, its tail weaving sinuously. It could have charged and destroyed her without these preliminaries; but it seemed to be playing with her, as a cat plays with a mouse.

Nearer and nearer it came. The girl fitted an arrow to the bow. She knew how futile a gesture it would be to launch that tiny missile at this great engine of destruction; but she was courageous, and she would not give up her life without defending it to the last.

The beast was coming closer. She wondered when it would charge. Many things passed through her mind, but clear and outstanding above all the rest was the image of a man in rags and tatters. Then, beyond the leopard, she saw a figure emerge from the jungle—a giant white man, naked but for a loin cloth.

He did not hesitate. She saw him running quickly forward toward the leopard; and she saw that the beast did not see him, for its eyes were upon her. The man made no sound as he sprang lightly across the soft turf. Suddenly, to her horror, she saw that he was unarmed.

The leopard raised its body a little from the ground. It gathered its hind feet beneath it. It was about to start the swift rush that would end in death for her. Then she saw the running man launch himself through the air straight for the back of the grim beast. She wanted to close her eyes to shut out the horrid scene that she knew must ensue as the leopard turned and tore his rash antagonist to ribbons.

What followed after the bronzed body of the white man closed with that of the great cat defied her astonished eyes to follow. There was a swift intermingling of spotted hide and bronzed skin, of arms and legs, of talons and teeth; and above all rose the hideous growls of two blood-mad beasts. To her horror she realized that not the cat alone was the author of them; the growls of the man were as savage as those of the beast.

From the midst of the whirling mass she saw the man suddenly rise to his feet, dragging the leopard with him. His powerful fingers encircled the throat of the carnivore from behind. The beast struck and struggled to free itself from that grip of death, but no longer did it growl. Slowly its struggles lessened in violence, and at last it went limp; then the man released one hand and twisted its neck until the vertebrae snapped, after which he cast the carcass to the ground. For a moment he stood over it. He seemed to have forgotten the girl; then he placed a foot upon it, and the forest reechoed to the victory cry of the bull ape.

Kali Bwana shuddered. She felt her flesh turn cold. She thought to flee from this terrible wild man of the forest; then he turned toward her, and she knew that it was too late. She still held the bow and arrow ready in her hands. She wondered if she could hold him off with these. He did not appear an easy man to frighten.

Then he spoke to her. “I seem to have arrived just in time,” he said quietly. “Your friend will be here presently,” he added, for he saw that she was afraid of him. That one should fear him was no new thing to Tarzan of the Apes. There were many who had feared him, and perhaps for this reason he had come to expect it from every stranger. “You may put down your bow. I shall not harm you.”

She lowered the weapon to her side. “My friend!” she repeated. “Who? Whom do you mean?”

“I do not know his name. Have you many friends here?”

“Only one, but I thought him dead. A huge ape carried him away.”

“He is safe,” the ape-man assured her. “He is following behind me.”

Kali Bwana sank limply to the ground. “Thank God!” she murmured.

Tarzan stood with folded arms watching her. How small and delicate she looked! He wondered that she had been able to survive all that she had passed through. The Lord of the Jungle admired courage, and he knew what courage this slender girl must possess to have undergone what she had undergone and still be able to face a charging leopard with that puny weapon lying on the grass beside her.

Presently he heard some one approaching and knew it was the man. When he appeared he was breathing hard from his exertion, but at sight of the girl he ran forward. “You are all right?” he cried. He had seen the dead leopard lying near her.

“Yes,” she replied.

To Tarzan, her manner seemed constrained, and so did that of the man. He did not know what had passed between them just before they had been separated. He could not guess what was in the heart of each, nor could Old Timer guess what was in the heart of the girl. Being a girl, now that the man was safe, she sought to hide her true emotions from him. And Old Timer was ill at ease. Fresh in his mind were the events of the afternoon; ringing in his ears her bitter cry, “I hate you!”

Briefly he told her all that had occurred since the ape had carried him away, and then they planned with Tarzan for the future. He told them that he would remain with them until they had reached the man’s camp, or that he would accompany them down river to the first station; but to Old Timer’s surprise the girl said that she would go to his camp and there attempt to organize a new safari, either to accompany her down river or in the further prosecution of her search for Jerry Jerome.

Before night fell Tarzan had brought meat to the camp, using the bow and arrows that Old Timer had made, and the man and the girl cooked theirs over a fire while the apeman sat apart tearing at the raw flesh with his strong, white teeth. Little Nkima, perched upon his shoulder, nodded sleepily.


Tarzan and the Leopard Men - Contents    |     Chapter 23 - Converging Trails


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